I’m a professional photographer (or something like that) and I live in an apartment. That means that I can’t work in the harmonious glow of high end speakers blasting my face off.
Thus, I decided to spend my money on headphones.
I won’t pretend to be the truest of technical audiophiles. While we can totally get down to optical acuity or the point of having 100 megapixel sensors, I can’t tell you the most about headphones. I listen to music. Mostly Tidal, mostly hip hop, rock, and jazz, with some house and trap EDM thrown in. I can tell you what sounds good to me and why.
I started my hobby when I was 14 and saved enough to buy some Shure E4c’s to go along with my White Core 2 Duo Macbook that I paid for by taking my lunch money and… not eating. This is also after selling my Ultimate Ear Super.Fi 3 and other earphones.
A couple of years later, I realized that the static that bothered me was coming from my headphone jack. I bought a NuForce Icon Udac.
From then on, I had those headphones till the cable shorted. From there it’s something like:
Apple Earpods -> Havi B3 Pro 1 (broken) -> Havi B3 Pro 1 (broken) -> Shure SE535
Sony 7506’s (for 7-8 years as a secondary work headphone) -> Alessandro MS-1 -> Sennheiser HD650 -> AKG K7XX (hated it, gave it to Dad) -> Hifiman HE-400i (possibly might sell?) -> Hifiman Edition X
Nuforce UDac -> Maverick Audio -> Audioquest Dragonfly v1.2 -> Grace Design x Massdrop m9xx
Hifiman Edition X Review
What's in the box?
- The HEX
- Nice form-fitting padding
- 4-5 foot (ish) right angled 3.5mm terminated cable
- 9-10 foot (ish) straight 1/4 terminated cable
I will always break down my reviews by the three things that matter to me. Comfort, build, sound quality, versatility, and my honest opinion to the biggest question of all: Was the damn thing worth it?
I bought the HEX I own with my own money.
Comfort - 9/10
I work a lot, so comfort is huge for me. It’s what made me stick away from the Audeze line. I tried them out at an audio store local to Los Angeles, and I couldn’t do longer than fifteen minutes. Too damn heavy.
The HEX’s are COMFORTABLE. Extremely. This is coming from someone who didn’t think the 650s were particularly great at comfort, even broken in.
The way they completely evenly distribute their weight throughout the side of my head from my temple to the top of my jaw is absolutely fantastic. It doesn’t feel weird to me personally.
The 400i’s cup me somewhat tightly, and I’m sure its due to the size of the cups. If the HEX’s had the same cups, I’d feel the same about them. The larger cups are somewhat warm, but absolutely fantastic.
Build – 5/10
Build is super important to me, and you can ask my work gear about that. I tend not to like things I can’t beat up if they’re portable.
These are not leaving the house. Let’s just say that. For how much I paid for them, which was less than most, heeeeellllnaaaaaah.
There’s definitely noises when I use them, coming from the headband. My particular copy of the HE-400i feels much sturdier than my HEX, which is pretty sad. We’ll get to this later. I think my point here is this: the 400i build isn’t bad. If my HEX was built the same way, I’d trust it. Sort of. If it didn’t cost this much.
Sound Quality – 9.3/10
I’ve always loved the Shure sound. It’s why until my HEX’s, Shure was the only audio company to take my money twice. Hifiman has just become the second (except I bought them used).
I am pretty treble sensitive. It has motivated both the way I record audio when I work, and the way I listen to music.
My ideal sound signature is this: Laid back treble with roll-off, forward mids, with coherent bass that’s somewhere between the adjectives bloomy and punchy. I loved that my 650s totally nailed this signature. I just didn’t like how the comfort was, and how much scaling they required.
Needless to say, my HEX’s NAIL this. Just listen to some high-res Norah Jones. Your mind will be blown.
Mids - 10/10
I am a hip-hop classicist. By this I mean, I listen to vocals before beats. I think this is why I subconsciously liked my Shures. It brought vocals to the forefront above all else.
Mids here are fantastic. Both male and female vocals sound fantastic. You get enough detail and nuance in these headphones to notice certain parts of recordings (if it’s good enough). For Norah Jones’s Seven Years, you can hear some of the studio noise and acoustics, and the range of the mics and how close she probably came to clipping.
I might be completely wrong, but that’s what it sounds like to me.
I think the big thing for me here, is that there’s definite separation of the vocals and mid-centric instruments above the bass. That’s huge to me. The mids feel like they’re in the center of my head, the bass surrounds the stage, and the other frequencies and quieter parts of the mix stay separate. I guess I’ll say it here, soundstage for a headphone is fantastic.
When I’m working, I can pick apart mistakes in my recordings of vocals pretty quickly. Whether that’s good or bad, ask me when I’m frustrated. But it does help me with my work, and the HEX is the first full sized can that I can say has honestly done that for me.
Bass - 9/10
The bass here is somewhere between bloomy and punchy/quick. Dare I say natural and loudspeaker like?
It’s interesting because it also seems to hit a middle-ground between my old 650s and my HE-400i’s. I got to do some A/B because I sold the 650s after I got my HEX’s. The HEX’s sound more planar’y in the low end than the 650s did. By this, I mean had quick decay before the pads played any effect on it.
The HEX has bass that is neither too Planar-y, nor too typical dynamic and thumpy. It strides a solid middle ground that sounds very natural to me. On some songs (Love Lockdown – Kanye West especially), the bass just reaches below the point of overwhelming.
I will say, that for the sake of tracks like that, I wish the bass was ever so slightly tighter. Maybe 5%.
Treble - 9/10 (for me)
Not sibilant, and doesn’t fatigue. I can listen to this headphone for hours. I’m not a treble head, so I won’t say much here, especially since most of my music doesn’t rely on treble. It’s smooth and rolled off just the way I like it.
Soundstage, other dynamics/details - 9/10
Fantastic in a lot of ways, as I said earlier.
- The only knock here is for absolute resolution which, to my ears, can’t beat my friends HD800 out of his Woo Audio WA7. Considering I didn’t buy these for absolute detail, but for enjoyment (95% of the time), it’s only losing a point for this. This doesn't mean the headphones lack detail retrieval. They're still better than most sub $1000 cans.
- Soundstage is great, vocals for the most part feel like they're coming from the middle of my head, or just in front of me. Bass feels multidirectional, just behind the vocals. Other instruments come from different sides of my head (depending on the mix). As far as instrument/element separation, different elements of the mix seem to fade in and out ridiculously smoothly. There is also seemingly definitive space between elements of each track. It’s worth the listen alone.
- Solidly black background.
- Easy easy easy to drive, but you knew that already.
- Doesn’t scale a lot, when using my m9xx, soundstage becomes more coherent and the background becomes blacker. Enough of a difference to matter to me. Makes me think that a high end SS amp would be the way to go here, unlike tubes. YMMV.
***** Hifiman representatives have said that using an amp that outs over 1W will damage these things. I'm not sure how you could do that, without it going crazy loud and blowing your ears out first. Just throwing this out there.
- Are these cans forgiving? Nope. Not to my ears at least. Feed it high quality files and input. Don't play 128 kbps music on these headphones. You'll regret every second of it. Lower quality mixes can’t hold up to the Norah Jones’ and the Kanye’s and the other fantastic producers of the world. I listened to Iron Maiden on these, and they sounded absolutely flat. Mind you, they were lossless but not remastered. Classic music, remastered, just popped out of the screen and felt 3D hologrammed in my head.
Let’s just say these are the versatility kings. Since they're open, I can be relatively aware of my surroundings when in use, and they can be driven literally out of anything. They sound marvelous out of my iPad. They literally don’t suck out of anything, which even my Shure’s can’t exactly match (due to hiss and electrical cracking).
These headphones can be used with, and for anything. I won’t duck points from it due to the fact it’s an open back which limits it in certain environments. Don't be that guy who blasts open-back headphones on the Metro. Please, please don't be that guy.
What do other people think?
I have a girlfriend and an apartment mate. My girlfriend could give less of a crap about the gear, but absolutely loves music. The apartment mate is a writer for a computer and tech review site, so he’s a gearhead too. Did I tell you he has a Massdrop account?
Girlfriend: Couldn’t take the headphones off, but couldn’t tell me why. Her first real hifi moment was trying out the 400i’s for the first time. This was a bigger and more comfortable experience for her.
Apartment Mate: Mind blown, and didn’t take them off for at least two hours when he was supposed to be writing. He was excited to tell me about details in the music that he’s never heard before, particularly mistakes in his lossless Weezer recordings.
Are you done buying headphones?
I'm not sure if these are my end of end games. I'm thinking the only way up from here would either be a pair of Stax SR-007's or HD800S's. The latter for practicality, the former for bad-assery. My interests in sound don't really seem (from what I've heard in the past) to be worth upgrading to any other phone. Don't say Audeze, my big head will probably beg for mercy.
Something worth mentioning was that I bought these knowing I'd be using them with an iPad, and not necessarily with a DAC/Amp. I think you have to be in this camp to fully pull the trigger on these, but I think there's more of you out there than not. These are THE BEST headphones for use without any additional hardware.
Was it worth it?
Yes, ABSOLUTELY - for me.
Would it be worth the current used Razordog semi-used price of $1389? Hm… good question. I won’t answer this, too close to call. I’d say yes to all willing to give it a shot.
Would it be worth at $1799? ONLY if my tastes seem to match yours, and this headphone is a close to perfect match to your musical tastes. If so, OMG YES GO FOR IT. If not, I hear Audeze, Mr. Speakers, and some company called Sennheiser might have something to say.
Final Score: 8.5/10
Which for me, being the cheapskate that I am, on a pair of $1799 headphones that can feel, at times, flimsy, means:
Go buy them now! I can't recommend these enough.
Feel free to drop me a line if you have any questions! I hope my thoughts were worth your two cents.ifiman